Sectarianism, Dorje Shugden and the Dalai Lama

I would like to now follow on from my previous article in which I quoted Geshe Kelsang Gyatso as stating that sectarianism can arise as a result of a blending of traditions, (as opposed to each one respecting one another whilst maintaining their own individual lineage of teachings). With respect this idea, which I read about some time ago, whilst I had some grasp of it in theory, I did not have much notion of the practical aspects of it until these were illustrated by particular actions of late. One would have thought perhaps that if traditions were mixed then they would at least end up being more open to each other and tolerant (despite losing any special individual characteristics, internal coherence and clarity). Geshe Kelsang is stating precisely the opposite.

Now the recent actions of various individuals and institutions who stand in opposition to Geshe Kelsang Gyatso in the Dorje Shugden issue have clearly illustrated Geshe-la’s own point on sectarianism.

First of all many other people including prominent teachers in other Mahayana Buddhist traditions have criticised the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) as a sectarian cult for years. However it is a fact that anyone is allowed to attend an NKT teaching, or be part of an NKT Centre. It is also a fact that NKT students can go to any other teachings as they individually see fit. This is clear within the constitution of the NKT.

The same is not true with respect to the teachings of the Dalai Lama. It is a fact that practitioners of Dorje Shugden are banned from attending his teachings, and are banned from attending his empowerments. They are also not allowed to work within any branch of his government or the Health Service. Here are some very public actions and resolutions relating to this:

March 21st, 1996

The Dalai Lama tells worshippers of Dorje Shugden to leave the temple and bars them from attending the empowerment.

March 30th, 1996
The Private Office of the Dalai Lama issues a decree for everyone to stop practising Dorje Shugden, with instructions to make people aware of this through government offices, monasteries, associations, etc.

The Assembly of Tibetan People’s Deputies (Parliament) passes a resolution banning the worship of Dorje Shugden by Tibetan government employees.

April 18th, 1996
The Tibetan Department of Health gives a special notice to doctors and staff members: ‘We should resolve not to worship Shugden in the future. If there is anyone who worships, they should repent the past and stop worshipping. They must submit a declaration that they will not worship in the future.’

April 22nd, 1996
The decree banning the worship of Dorje Shugden is officially read out at Drepung Monastery. The abbot says that everyone must abide by the ban. Drepung Loseling Monastery distribute a form, saying that anyone who does not sign will be immediately expelled from the monastery. Many monks including Dragpa Rinpoche move to a nearby Indian town.

 

Since then very recently the ban on Dorje Shugden and the marginalisation of Dorje Shugden practitioners has been spread throughout most of the major Tibetan monasteries in India.In addition to this and following the ‘advice’ of the office of the Dalai Lama, the assembly of Tibetan people in Switzerland recently agreed the following:

“On August 16, 2008, in the local assembly of Tibetan people in Switzerland and Liechtenstein, their Deputies discussed thoroughly with great responsibility. After that, the Local Assembly’s Deputies extended their appreciation to the Resolution (1996) adopted by the majority regarding the worshipping of Dholgyal (Shugden). Due to necessity there is now no option but to add three new resolutions on top of the existing five resolutions. We request all Tibetans who are above 18 years old in Switzerland and Liechtenstein to fully follow the content of these resolutions.

A The five resolutions passed unanimously by the Local Assembly’s Deputies on July 6, 1996 were:

The Dholgyal worshipper must completely give up [the practice] henceforth.

Those who do not worship Shugden must follow the instruction without falling into the trap of others.

You all must invite only those who do not worship Dholgyal, when you need to perform puja for oneself or for the Dalai Lama’s well-being.

Be it in private or a group, when you make offerings to the monasteries in Nepal, India, etc., you must do these offerings to those monasteries which do not worship Dholgyal.

You must bear in mind the instructions of politics and religion and abide by them without any contradiction.

B Three additional resolutions adopted on August 16, 2008 by the majority during the Second Session of Local Assembly were:

Recently a few Dholgyal followers have engaged in baseless criticism against the Dalai Lama in public. This we recognise as a conspiracy to spread rumours through gossip.

Those few Tibetans who criticise the Dalai Lama, we recognise them being in the category of Chinese government’s politics, directly, indirectly and thoroughly.

We will collect signatures as a truth witness which represents the volunteer support to the above-mentioned points.”

 

I have no intention here to pass on negative rumours about other traditions or teachers, however I am trying to merely state certain facts relating to this subject.

Another mahayana tradition the FPMT (Foundation for the preservation of the Mahayana Tradition) have also released certain resolutions or measures concerning Dorje Shugden practitioners. They have stated that they have done this in response to the Dalai Lama’s policy. They state their wish to follow the Dalai Lama’s example of prohibiting the practice:

 

“As FPMT follows the advice of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, all those in service or teaching in FPMT centres and projects do not engage in the practice of Shugden. 

From The FPMT Handbook:

All those who offer service or teach in FPMT centres are committed to follow the advice of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. As an example, His Holiness has prohibited the practice of the so-called protector, Do Gyel (Shugden), so teachers or others affiliated with the FPMT should not engage in this practice.”

 

Without showing disrespect to the FPMT, it appears to be clear that (as they have explained) they are merely doing this out of the wish to follow the Dalai Lama and the wishes expressed by his office. Otherwise it would be hard to argue the standpoint that they would ever have issued any prohibition on the practice of Dorje Shugden given the fact that their founder Lama Yeshe practised, and relied sincerely upon Dorje Shugden throughout his life.

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Mixing Traditions -by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

There is much speculation on Geshe-la’s stance with respect to mixing traditions and sectarianism. I think this section summarizes Geshe Kelsang’s opinion very well.

In the chapter on effort in Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life Shantideva advises us that before we commit ourself to engaging in a practice we should investigate it carefully to see whether it is suitable and whether we can sustain it; but once we have committed ourself to it we should never turn back but continue until we attain the final result. Switching from one practice to another unrelated practice not only prevents us from fulfilling our wishes in this life, but also makes it difficult for us to accomplish our goals in future lives. Moreover, it is often the cause of breaking our commitments and severing precious relationships, such as those that exist between Guru and disciple, and between spiritual friends.

We must be careful not to misunderstand the effort of non-satisfaction. Practicing this effort does not mean that we should become dissatisfied with our tradition or with our main practice, and try to follow many different traditions or mix together many different practices. Every Teacher and every tradition has a slightly different approach and employs different methods. The practices taught by one Teacher will differ from those taught by another, and if we try to combine them we shall become confused, develop doubts, and lose direction. If we try to create a synthesis of different traditions we shall destroy the special power of each and be left only with a mishmash of our own making that will be a source of confusion and doubt. Having chosen our tradition and our daily practices we should rely upon them single-pointedly, never allowing dissatisfaction to arise. At the same time as cherishing our own tradition we should respect all other traditions and the right of each individual to follow the tradition of their choosing. This approach leads to harmony and tolerance. It is mixing different religious traditions that causes sectarianism. This is why it is said that studying non-religious subjects is less of an obstacle to our spiritual progress than studying religions of different traditions.

Once we have decided which tradition to follow and which practices to do, we should engage in them wholeheartedly with a joyful mind. This is the power of joy. Whether we are listening to Dharma teachings, reading Dharma books, reciting prayers, contemplating, or meditating, we should do so with a light and happy mind, like a child at play. If we enjoy a practice we shall naturally have enthusiasm for it. (Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, Understanding the Mind: an Explanation of the Nature and Functions of the Mindpp. 161-162, © 1993, 1997, 2002)

Some experiences with Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

Also on the internet there has been much criticism regarding Geshe Kelsang Gyatso (Geshe-la) and his intentions, so I wanted to put forward a few small encounters with Geshe-la of my own, which I at least know to be true. First of all although Geshe-la is very busy, whenever I have written and asked something of him I have always received a response. Most of these were questions about emphasising different practices and understanding various practical points to do with meditation. On a few occasions I have been in meetings with Geshe-la regarding issues surrounding Dharma centres, such as for change of location etc… however when I saw Geshe-la after I had been away on a retreat I did see a different aspect. When beginning to talk about the retreat, Geshe-la’s eyes absolutely lit up (in a way I had not seen in previous meetings) and he eagerly leaned forward and said “Tell me your experience”.  This meeting always stuck in my mind. It highlights for me what Geshe-la is really about (in my opinion) which is the actual practice of Dharma, practising the meaning of Dharma and nothing else. After all these years and with the NKT becoming a large organisation it still seems obvious that Geshe-la regards all the other things as merely a necessity – a necessary condition.

               On another occasion I remember privately giving Geshe-la a cheque for several thousand pounds on behalf of someone else. Geshe-la accepted this cheque, but then a few days later I received the cheque back, and crossed out – because Geshe-la wanted the money instead used to help the local Dharma Centre. Over the years everyone can see that the NKT has grown a huge amount, and yet Geshe-la remains as he always did, without accumulating possessions or houses or cars. It is very rare even amongst spiritual teachers for their organisation to become so widespread whilst themselves they remain with very little, as Geshe-la has done.

Hate the NKT? … Love Geshe-la?

Give me a penny for every time I hear “ I love Geshe-la, but I’m not sure about the NKT”, along with many other similar often much stronger sentiments. In this way it seems as though an idea of the NKT has arisen as a soft target- object of blame whilst being able to avoid any overt criticism on the spiritual guide of the tradition. My own feeling in short is :-  I love Geshe-la; and many of the teachers I find excellent; whilst others seem ok and some appear to be downright bonkers; many of the organisers and workers within the NKT appear to be straightforward and charitable people; while others may show themselves to be neurotic power-mongers at times. Alongside all of this, I have to say I love the NKT, I love all the teachings, the temples and books, the good and skilful efforts of many of those involved and the precious internal rules. On the other hand I can’t bear it when teachers start making up their own version of the Dharma through their teachings and example and pushing their ideas worldly and spiritual on to others without acting at all in a genuinely humble and considerate manner, as in the Kadampa way of life. I can’t bear this because it undermines and devalues a wonderful tradition. 

The NKT is clearly Geshe-la’s dedication, coming out of his own practice. He would like the explanation of Kadam Buddhism to become available in every town, which of course would be wonderful. Now the tradition has been the subject of lots of criticism much of it on the internet however I believe it has also been damaged by many teachers and organisers in the past (and some now) not acting in accordance with the Kadampa way of life, or even close. I pray that now and in the future NKT teachers and organisers will act as simple calm practitioners whilst teaching and organising and may they quickly step down when they find that they cannot do this. In this way may this glorious tradition become available in every place in the world.  

Finally I hope that individual Buddhists will always be prepared to conscientiously and peacefully question and stand up to wrongs which they can help to correct, especially where others they know of are persecuted or oppressed.

Bad Experiences

I can see from just a brief check on the internet that there are many people who for whatever reason have had bad experiences within the NKT. I would like to give my personal opinion regarding this. Sometimes I feel that this may be their own fault. Other times it is clear that they have encountered Resident Teachers who have behaved very strangely and often acted in close-minded and sectarian ways. Unfortunately there are (and have been) various Resident Teachers who do not follow Geshe-la’s approach – which is that of the logician who invites practical exploration and testing of the teachings. 

 

I pray and hope that all can find such Resident Teachers such as I have come across (see previous post on Faith, Reason and Doubt). If people do have such troubles with their Resident Teachers and if they are acting strangely or in ways that seem inconsistent with Geshe-la’s open and natural approach , I can only suggest:

1. Firstly try not to worry

2. If you feel able, then go and tell them how you feel and ask them to please stop acting strangely (this may well have no effect, but it is only fair)

3. If many people seem to be badly effected by their behaviour or teachings then write to the NKT secretary about it, explaining without being critical (anonymously if you wish)

4. But don’t rely on any change occurring. Instead rely on Geshe-la, his books and festival teachings and if possible go and find another Resident Teacher who is more sensible, either in person or by doing a correspondence study programme. 

Finally avoid dwelling on such problems – move on swiftly and focus instead on the beauty, wisdom and good sense found in the Dharma and its practice.